If you’re living with fibromyalgia, simple steps you can do right now can help prevent a painful fibromyalgia flare.

For the 5 million Americans living with fibromyalgia, the discomfort that characterizes this condition never really goes away. But from time to time, sudden bouts of intense pain, fatigue, and other symptoms — known as fibromyalgia flares — will also occur. While there’s no definitive way to avoid occasional flares, you can be proactive and develop strategies to keep your symptoms in check, according to Sharon Ostalecki, PhD, a nationally recognized fibromyalgia patient advocate.

Preventing a Flare: Focusing on Self-Management

  • Journaling. “Take 10 minutes every day to jot down things like what activities you did, what medication you started, sleep, or if you ate something new,” Ostalecki suggests. “Journaling is the key to discovering your flare triggers, so you can try to avoid them.” She notes that it can take up to 48 hours for an event to trigger a fibromyalgia flare-up, and if it’s not noted somewhere, you might not remember or recognize the correlation.
  • Delegating and saying no. “Many people with fibromyalgia are perfectionists and like to do everything themselves, from all the cleaning to all the cooking,” says Ostalecki, who includes herself in this category. “But you have to learn to let others do things for you because even mild overexertion can lead to a severe flare-up.”
  • Stress management. “Stress tightens you up, and when you have fibromyalgia, the muscles don’t let go,” Ostalecki explains. “Find something that reduces stress for you before it gets to that painful point. I like listening to books on tape, for instance.”
  • Standing tall. Learning and maintaining proper posture is crucial to managing fibromyalgia, because posture errors that push the head too far forward or cause slouching can lead to muscle fatigue, followed by increased tension and pain.
  • Proper diet. Protein intake is vital to those with fibromyalgia “because it’s the only macronutrient that builds and maintains muscle,” says Ostalecki, who earned her doctorate in nutrition. “A diet low in protein results in more nodules, more pain, and consequently more exhaustion.”

Preventing a Flare: Finding What Works for You

You can best assess whether a particular therapy is working by following these steps:

  1. Start only one new treatment at a time.
  2. See if you feel better when you use the treatment.
  3. Stop the treatment, and see if you get worse.
  4. Restart the treatment, and see if you improve again. If you do, you can be fairly confident that this treatment has a positive effect on you.

Preventing a Flare: Staying Positive, Outwardly Focused, and Upbeat

Finally, as hard as it may be, trying not to let fibromyalgia become the focus of your life is an important step in staying well and avoiding flares, says Ostalecki, who’s also executive director of H.O.P.E., a non-profit organization that works to increase fibromyalgia awareness. “Find something that brings you joy, whether it’s your dogs, your garden, your painting, or whatever,” she advises. Without such an emotional outlet, “chronic pain will become all you talk about, and that will impact your relationships.” Strained relationships bring more stress and likely more symptoms — exactly the outcome you want to avoid.